Reports that Macclesfield has the highest number of empty shops in Cheshire should come as no surprise to the council.
It was told 5 years ago that the proposed Wilson Bowden /Debenhams scheme, making Macclesfield a “shopping destination” would fail, as, most probably, will the resurrected scheme based around a cinema. The likely closure of Marks and Spencer will have an impact; Cheshire East council seems unable to grasp the fact that shopping habits have changed, a huge move to online shopping.
Macclesfield has a lot going for it. It has good rail links; it is 20 minutes away from Manchester (which has relatively good retail), is close to Manchester Airport and fantastic countryside. The excellent transport links are one of the main reasons Macclesfield will never be a “shopping destination”. We have a highly educated population and should be able to attract high technology businesses.
A core of retail will remain but most will go, leaving a few old established businesses that will also disappear over time. In order to avoid lots of empty shops and transient nail bars, hairdressers, barbers, the following actions need to be taken (in parallel).
First, the large derelict sites adjacent to the town centre – The Old Kings Head, London&Manchester House etc. need to be turned into affordable housing, as is happening with the Park Green site. The council has the powers to make this happen but doesn’t use them.
Second, many of the (mainly Georgian) buildings on Mill Street and Chestergate are deteriorating. The upper floors have not been adequately maintained and can also be turned into affordable housing. Section 215 can also be used for this.
Third – improve the markets. The only day the town is really busy is Treacle Sunday – the last Sunday of the month.
Fourth – take specific action to attract fast-growing high tech businesses to the town centre. These need a highly educated workforce and inexpensive accommodation. The transport links and countryside are an inducement.
Affordable housing is primarily aimed at younger people, so building more housing in the town centre will not only help revive the Macclesfield retail landscape. It will likely improve leisure use, evenings and weekends.
Affordable housing also needs parking so free residents parking in the town centre car parks needs to be provided.